Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Biggest Co-op of All

Human association takes many forms. At one end of the spectrum we have organisations firmly under the control of a leadership unaccountable to those they give orders to. At the opposite end there are loose networks where individuals act as they see fit without any collectively binding command structure. And in the middle we have the cooperative model that enables all concerned to have democratic control – with each having an equal vote, and all bound by the outcome of their shared deliberations, in steering their joint endeavours.

The evidence from participatory learning in schools, cooperative business performance, community development, citizen engagement in public service, and restorative conflict resolution, consistently points to the positive impact derived from organisational forms and practices that empower those involved to solve problems cooperatively as partners. The solidarity built from equal respect and mutual support is an unrivalled force in sustaining morale and driving improvements. (For a more detailed exposition, see ‘Cooperative Problem-Solving: what it means in theory and practice’, available for free download from Cambridge University: http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/research/academicgroups/equality/forumyouthparticipation/CoopPSpaperHBT121101.pdf )

So why is it that in every sphere of human association, democratic cooperation remains a minority undertaking? If we remember that the establishment of any structure for cooperation on equal terms requires the redistribution of power, the answer becomes clear. The idea that the government of any country should be democratically controlled by all members of that country, was fiercely resisted for centuries. People who have grown accustomed to exercising unaccountable power over others tend to be reluctant to concede to cooperative forms of power sharing. The resistance from rulers of states has been echoed just about everywhere else – especially amongst businesses.

And while for much of the 20th century, particularly the middle third of it, governments in the UK and the US moved the state in a much more democratic and cooperative direction, plutocratic opposition has been resurgent for the past three decades. Now the UK government routinely deploys the rhetoric of community involvement to mask its plan for dismantling what is potentially the biggest and most powerful cooperative organisation, our democratic state. A lot of what we previously owned has already been asset-stripped, with only liabilities left for us. Large corporations run away with rich pickings, and we lose out without any kind of public recourse.

What we need from those in government is sustained help to make more organisations, including the state itself, become more, rather than less, cooperative in the way they engage with their workers and the public they serve. The last thing we want is the breaking up of the public sector (in which all citizens have an equal stake) to hand over to private interests shielded from the vast majority of citizens. That would just be a flagrant act of demutualisation.

Other related posts:

‘Cooperative Problem-Solving: the key to a reciprocal society’: http://henry-tam.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/cooperative-problem-solving-key-to.html

‘The Case for Cooperative Problem-Solving’: http://henry-tam.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/case-for-cooperative-problem-solving.html

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Bomb for an Eye

Imagine a group of superpowers (USA, China, Russia, and the European Union [without the withdrawn UK]) agreeing amongst themselves that the Celtic tribes wrongly pushed out of their ancestral homes in England centuries ago by waves of Anglo-Saxons, should now return.

The Celts would take control of all English territories, while the native English who have settled there for over a thousand years would be rounded up and sent to a series of camps in the Midlands and a narrow strip of land by the North Sea. Some of the English managed to escape to the continent or America, but soon no one wants to take any more English refugees, who begin to see no prospect but indefinite confinement.

Many amongst the English plea with the outside world to end the injustice inflicted on them. Whatever wrongs were previously done to the Celtic people, they argue, could not be made right by depriving the English of their land here and now. But no one would listen, and soon some militant extremists decide to vent their anger by seeking to hurt the Celts. They throw stones at them. From time to time, they hurl explosives at them.

But every time a single Celt is killed, the Celtic army which now occupies England does not just hit back at the terrorists responsible, it sends in tanks and fires missiles to blast ‘targets’, killing scores of civilians, many children included, who have had nothing to do with attacks on the Celts.

The group of superpowers declare that both the Celts and the English should seek to work things out peacefully, though in the meantime the Celts are entitled to defend themselves against any threat.

Let us be thankful that the animosity between Celts and English that caused so much bloodshed centuries ago has not resulted in the mad scenario depicted above. But the madness of bombing innocent families in retaliation for terrorist killing is all too real in our world today.

Of course, any terrorist attack which maims or kills is to be condemned. Just as any forcible removal of a people from their homes to indefinite confinement is to be condemned. Above all, the massacre of defenceless people, wherever it may take place, must be condemned. In Libya and Syria, the ruling regimes’ ruthless use of force in killing civilians in retaliation against the violence of insurgents was widely condemned, backed by international focus on how to prevent any more slaughtering of civilians. There is no reason why the same should not apply across the Middle East.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Crude, the Mad & the Ugly

Progressives everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief now that President Obama has secured a second term. But the vicious onslaught from anti-progressive forces will soon enough commence again. Rather than deluding ourselves with wishful thinking that our antagonists are now in complete disarray, it is time to take stock and prepare for what may happen next.

Ever since the progressive drive for democracy and equality began in 18th century England, America, and France, the anti-progressive camp has not ceased to attack every attempt at reform as a terminal threat against all that is good and sacred. Furiously denouncing ‘Levellers’, ‘democrats’, ‘Jacobins’, ‘atheists’, ‘commies’, ‘socialists’, they want to conserve the golden status quo that gives them a privileged position overlooking the downtrodden. But their motivation is not always the same. There are three virulent strains with quite distinct characteristics, and we need to understand them if we are to contain them.

First, there is the Crude strain, which is manifested by a basic desire not to lose one’s considerable disadvantages to those less fortunate. For example, someone with extremely wealthy parents or rampant money-making skills don’t want any government to tell them what to do, least of all to share more of what they lay claim to with others.

Secondly, the Mad strain is filled with a rabid hatred of anyone who dares to challenge the established order of the world. Harking back to the pre-18th century Church-backed hierarchical system that privileged the white, heterosexual male ranked in order of wealth, it is contemptuous of feminism, race equality, secularism, inclusive sexuality, and any form of multicultural outlook.

Thirdly, the Ugly strain is to be found amongst those who feed off a sense of dominance, of amassing vastly more power over others. Through money, military superiority, and market manipulation, they aim to maintain a total hegemony over others who must do their bidding.

What most observers have said following Romney’s defeat is that, in essence, the Republican Party has allowed itself to be taken over by the Mad strain. If the Republicans get rid of its anti-progressive stance on social issues, they would no longer alienate Hispanics, African-Americans, gay people, women etc so much, and could take on the Democrats again. Interestingly, Cameron’s mission in the UK has been to shift public perception of the Conservatives as the Nasty Party by distancing them from the Mad strain. And criticisms of Cameron from within his own party are notably directed at him being for too soft on their traditional objections of derision – e.g., diversity, aid for people in foreign countries, gay marriage.

What progressives must beware is that while any curtailing of the Mad strain is to be welcome, anti-progressive offensive can still be highly damaging if the Ugly strain remains active. To polarize society between a respected clique of white heterosexual males and an excluded zone of ‘others’ is obnoxious, but it is also repugnant to split a country into a wealthy elite who can shape organizations, laws, and media coverage to suit themselves, and a majority whose lives can be ruined at a stroke by corporate irresponsibility and savage cuts to public protection.

Mad haters of scapegoats are easy to spot, but Ugly plutocrats manipulate the legal and political system to maximize their gains while staying out of the limelight. For example, billions of pounds will be leached out of the NHS into the hands of private profiteers as a result of Cameron’s anti-progressive legislation. But there has been little effective mobilization against this and other similar moves because the nauseating transfers of resources from the many to the wealthy few are masked by a calm corporate exterior.

Progressives can always negotiate with the Crude hoarders of privileges. With them, it is a matter of time and degree of moving towards a fairer society. One Nation Tories and moderate Republicans are prepared to share what they and their friends have got hold of, just not too quickly, not too – from their perspective – drastically. But we can work with them in a spirit of bipartisanship, so to speak. With the Mad, it is difficult to have a dialogue. With the Ugly, they would smile and talk with you even as they do everything in their power to turn society into even more of a pyramid. They would have no problem welcoming blacks, Latinos, women, gays into their elite boardroom, so long as the vast majority of citizens and workers have to bow down to their commands.

Anti-progressives are rarely complacent. They are constantly reviewing their strategies. And should they ease off on their Mad strain, that is when you must look out more than ever for the Ugly tricks they have up their sleeve.

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